Fergie says Reds will match Barça. How?

Sir Alex Ferguson has once again challenged his players to match Barcelona, with Manchester United facing the European champions in Washington on Saturday night. Just 63 days after the humiliating defeat by the Catalans at Wembley the question, with six senior players having left the club and no new central midfielder on the horizon, is how?

This, of course, is no trivial matter. The destruction by Pep Guardiola’s side in London was so comprehensive that Michael Carrick’s head is probably still spinning. While Barça is so good that few successfully compete, United’s total capitulation in midfield on 28 May served only to highlight the glaring weakness in Ferguson’s squad.

That Ferguson can no longer call on Paul Scholes, Owen Hargreaves nor – in all likelihood – Darron Gibson in the coming season has also reduced the Scot’s options in midfield. The quality hardly ran deep to start.

In the aftermath of Wembley defeat Ferguson challenged his players to reach Barça’s level; it’s a theme that United’s 69-year-old coach returned to ahead of Saturday’s game in the Capital.

“In everyone’s mind they are the best team, currently, in the world,” admitted Ferguson, without hint of irony.

“I’m quite happy to be in second place at this moment in time because that’s our challenge. Our challenge will be to get to that level.”

Yet, Ferguson’s summer activity to date has largely been aimed at maintaining the status quo. Long-term evolution rather than a quantum leap in quality has been the theme. Hardly a portent to challenge Barcelona as Europe’s finest in the coming campaign. In any case, many observers feel that United over-achieved on the continent last season.

David de Gea will replace Edwin van der Sar in the medium term, although Ferguson has offered Anders Lindegard the chance to impress during the pre-season US tour. Whichever way the goalkeeping decision goes it is certainly not yet an upgrade.

Meanwhile, room for Phil Jones has been made by the transfer of Wes Brown and John O’Shea to Sunderland. Jones is flexible and talented but completely inexperienced at European leave. Then there is Ashley Young, who will at least offer a versatile alternative to the failed experiment with Gabriel Obertan and Bébé, although few count the former Aston Villa winger in Barça’s class.

There is little doubt Ferguson recognises the problem at the heart of his midfield though. This despite protestations to the contrary in recent days. After all, why else would he instruct chief executive to pursue the aforementioned midfield trio this summer? Yet, David Gill insists deals for Sneijder, Modric and Nasri are now “dead.” United seemingly lack the financial muscle to force Inter’s hand over the Dutchman, Nasri will probably join Manchester City next summer, and Tottenham Hotspur remains intransigent over Modric, who has expressed a desire to join Chelsea in any case.

“We didn’t progress that one [Sneijder]. I’m not doing anything on anything at the moment, so they are all dead,” said Gill on Friday.

“The important point is that you never know. I’ve been around in football long enough to know things change quickly. Somebody may become available and we can then say we are interested.

“We have been clear all along. There is money in the bank. Some people have not believed us but if a player is required to improve the squad and challenge for top honours, the money is there. That is still the case. We are not afraid to spend big money on players of a certain age.”

Whether Gill’s comments are yet another in a long-line of spin from the executive will only be confirmed on 31 August. Yet, Gill’s key line – “of a certain age” – might well be confirmation that United’s transfer policy of buying young with a view to re-sale value is still in place. Informally United will not spend large fees on players over 26.

With Sneijder now 27, a total financial commitment of more than £80 million required to prize the Dutchman away from Inter and pay the midfielder’s wages, and little re-sale possible, it is inconceivable that United will deal unless Blaunegra substantially reduces its financial requirements to nearer £20 million than £35 million.

The impasse leaves the Reds to look for an alternative or – far more likely – Gill may Ferguson to begin the season with Anderson, Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher as the senior central midfielders at the club. Each has their significant limitations.

This is to say nothing of the club’s desperate need for a defensive midfielder with Hargreaves now cast into football’s wilderness.

What then of the stated goal to match Barcelona? Based on a hope and a prayer, critics might add. Perhaps Anderson ‘will come good’ after four years of inconsistency. Maybe, Fletcher will regain confidence after a debilitating illness. Potentially Carrick will step up a level despite history telling us otherwise. Hope, as a wise observer once noted, is no kind of strategy.

That Barça can boast such riches in attack and yet add both the outstanding Alexis Sanches and in all probability Cesc Fabregas too has if anything taken Guardiola’s side further away from United this summer.

United may well emerge victorious as FedEx Field tonight. Ferguson side is, after all, three weeks ahead of its opponents in pre-season preparation, with Barça not beginning the La Liga campaign until late August. Without central midfield reinforcements few will expect a repeat come the Champions League final next May.

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Comments

  1. dozer says

    It’s nothing more than a motivational call. Even if we buy Modric/Sneidjer and De Rossi/another destroyer, we’d still have strengthened worse than Barcelona who’ve bought, Fabregas and Sanchez.

    The only way we can come close is by having a world beater in our team. They have Xavi, Iniesta and Messi. We have none.

  2. reddread says

    No one will match Barca while Xavi, Iniesta and Messi are still around. There just aren’t the players out there at the moment.

    Figuratively speaking, though, say we do spunk £80m on Sneijder and he is the catalyst for a Big Cup win and a Premier League title. That would be £80m well spent, surely? When did we stop worrying about what a player can bring to the team and instead start worrying about their fucking resale value? Actually, don’t answer that, we all know when that happened.

  3. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    we were matching barcelona 1-1 until fergie moved giggs from midfield and put park in there, then we were 3-1 down within ten minutes

  4. kennyo says

    but i will say my point,guaranteed
    in two or three years time,we will only hear,petrucci,pogba,and morisson and anderson
    like now we hearing xavi iniesta and messi

  5. says

    Forget about Barca Ed. They are light years ahead in terms of players & club coaching structure.The challenge is for the manager to be able to put out a team that we deserve. Unless he surprises us in the next month I would accuse him of gross negligence.

    He has been aware that Scholes & Hargreaves were coming to the end of the road for the last two years, at least. He must surely be aware too that Carrick is a plodder & defensively a liability; Giggs is not a proper midfielder & is ready to be sent out to grass; Anderson has been completely unreliable; Fletcher, even at his best, is short of class & Gibson is crap.

    There must be at least a dozen midfielders available, apart from the mystic three, significantly better than the fabulous five.

    Even my dog was nodding in agreement as I wrote this.

  6. NameOnTheTrophy says

    Well to be honest Fletch never really got a chance against barcelona.. Carrick had no chance playing against Xavi and Iniesta with the sort of midfielders he had around him..
    coupled with kamikaze tactics..hope he puts out a solid midfield this time..

  7. RobDiabloRobDiablo says

    Commenter said:
    ..hope he puts out a solid midfield this time..

    The point many of us have been trying to make for some time is that Sir Alex does not have a “solid midfield” to put out on the pitch.

    • says

      It’s been a good match so far – to half time. Hardly the intensity of Wembley though. Barca half heartedly pressing. Three weeks behind United in terms of fitness.

  8. Sidsidney says

    If we win/don’t lose then you know what the headlines will be… ‘We don’t need to sign a midfielder’

    • Mongoletsi says

      That’s the thing; make chances and the welsh scouser will still stick ‘em in. I have absolutely no problem with him being 4th striker other than we need to properly develop Welbeck.

  9. dozer says

    Cleverley’s a lot like Scholes. Can control and get the ball moving in a touch or two and yet make an excellent pass. Even under pressure.

    Sir Ryan Giggs? No no no. Sir Paul Scholes say.

  10. SKW says

    Um, Cleverly wasn’t very good.

    The key takeaways were Smalling’s tackles and Wellbeck’s excellent movement. Beyond that, I thought it was so-so. Anderson again looked poor. And Young looked lost. Nani always looked dangerous and he tracked back well.

  11. says

    It was obviously a pre-season game with Barca not playing some of their bigger names, but really it is a case of in Fergie we trust.

    He sees them in training every day and history will show that he knows a bit more about football management than we do.

    Will be an interesting season.

    • SKW says

      He can talk all he wants.

      Unless this kid is a once in a generation phenom, he is not going to challenge Europe’s best and push us over the top against the likes of Ozil, Messi and Schneider.

      Heck, Scholes and Becks didn’t do that when they came on in their initial seasons, either. Nobody does. So pretending this kid is the answer to our problems in the center of the park this year is dishonest, wishful thinking. And based on his performance against Barca, Cleverly has a long way to go. A long way…

  12. says

    I’m sorry to say that Fergie does not always know best. The real frustration is that we very nearly have a very good squad & a very good A-team. Part of the problem is his reluctance to move “loyal” players on. If he really does want to push us forward to the next level of Park, Carrick, Giggs, Fletcher & probably Anderson, two should be dispensed with & two better MFs brought in. Quite why he refuses to make a quality defensive midfielder a priority is one of life’s eternal mysteries.

    We must have been scouting for two such players for at least the last two years, with Scholes & Hargreaves ready for the nursing home & one would think about half a dozen candidates would have been drawn up; but there seems to be absolutely no evidence of that.

    • Mongoletsi says

      // Quite why he refuses to make a quality defensive midfielder a priority is one of life’s eternal mysteries. //

      He just doesn’t have the backing to take a punt on star names like he used to. Hargreaves and Veron being examples of splashing the cash on stars who *might* do well at Utd. But then back to the Charlie Adam point; he’s as good as any of our other midfielders and was only £7m. – which surely represents the “value” Fergie has been told to focus on.

  13. uncleknobheadffsuncleknobheadforfucksake says

    Commenter said:
    Yeah Barca had hardly touched it up until that tactical change.

    ffs

    it was 1-1

    all up for grabs

  14. Ichiro says

    Commenter said:
    He can talk all he wants.

    Unless this kid is a once in a generation phenom, he is not going to challenge Europe’s best and push us over the top against the likes of Ozil, Messi and Schneider.

    Heck, Scholes and Becks didn’t do that when they came on in their initial seasons, either. Nobody does. So pretending this kid is the answer to our problems in the center of the park this year is dishonest, wishful thinking. And based on his performance against Barca, Cleverly has a long way to go. A long way…

    After that Barcelona game I would rather give Cleverley a chance actually. Wenger has done the right thing by giving the likes of Fabregas and Wilshere chances early on. We should do the same with Welbeck and Cleverley.

    • SKW says

      I have no problem with giving them a chance. I think we should. My point is ridiculous to believe Cleverly can come in and solve our midfield problems. He needs to play sure. But is Cleverly the X-factor for a European Cup? Come on. We know he’s not.

  15. 3entendre says

    I don’t know why people keep saying we need to match Barca like we will meet again in the next year’s final! the Madrid galacticos of 2003 were a notch better than the UCL winners of 2002 after signing Ronaldo, but Juventus still beat them in the final when everyone thought they’d win the tournament easily!!

    we just need to improve our weak areas and we shall be fine.

  16. says

    I loved the comparison between long term evolution and `quantum leap in quality’ (niuce phrasing). But wht can’t we do the quantum leap in quality: we are Man Utd ffs! I have said this before on this site and so people will probably be getting bored with it: but why can’t we think quantum leap: bring in the players who could potentially transform the team so that we are filled with anticipation, can’t wait to see how we take other teams to pieces. What we have so far may be good enough for another league triumph, but we won’t take teams to pieces, certainly not in the final of the Champions League.

  17. captainhormonecaptainhormone says

    Commenter said:
    I don’t know why people keep saying we need to match Barca like we will meet again in the next year’s final! the Madrid galacticos of 2003 were a notch better than the UCL winners of 2002 after signing Ronaldo, but Juventus still beat them in the final when everyone thought they’d win the tournament easily!!

    we just need to improve our weak areas and we shall be fine.

    so…3 world class midfielders are needed then

    ffs

  18. ian says

    Forget Barca, a red herring.

    Forget Sneijder, in my opinion, another red herring.
    (A galactico in transfer/wages/having the team built round him but not in the same league as Messi & Cristiano. He has shown zero enthusiasm coming to OT. WS scores goals but needs the protection of a quality defensive misfielder if we play two wide players-obviously SAFs intention- & two strikers -criminal if we don’t play Hernandez. That rules out Anderson, Giggs, Park & Cleverley).

    Adams offers qualities that none of our MFs can match & there are many midfielders who are much, much better than him. Why have these guys not been identified a year or more ago? Why is SAF acting like a doddering old geezer?

  19. DeadRevel says

    Simplle really. We can’t match Barcelona due to the fact that they can attract the best youngsters throughout Spain and train them together for years, resulting in a team with an almost sixth sense for passing and movement.

    People really need to stop whinging about transfers. They won’t help against Barca. As Real Madrid have shown time and time again. We only need to sign players if we think our quad isn’t strong enough to win us the league or progress through cup competitions. Anyone who thinks signing Nasri or Modric will somehow help us win the midfield battle against Barca are kidding themselves. If Arsenal can’t do it with their Barca-esque approach to possession and passing and a top midfield, what chance do we have?

    What we need to hope for is a batch of talented youngsters who have played together for a long time and in the same academy. Prospects look good and I’m quietly confident that out of De Gea, Rafael, Fabio, Smalling, Jones, Evans, Nani, Anderson, Cleverley, Pogba, Morrison, Tunnicliffe, Welbeck, Rooney and Hernandez we will have at least a core of talented players who know each others game inside out. Ths is what SAF is aiming for. The signs are unmistakable.

    Good game against Barca incidentally. Enjoyable to watch, particularly the first half. Though Nani, Welbeck, Fabio and Smalling looked good. Cleverley too, though his performance was overshadowed somewhat by Thiago and Iniesta.

  20. Waxfoot says

    Yes!!! We beat Barcelona in a friendly – all our problems are solved, forget about sneijder or buying any midfielder, we don’t need ‘em!

    Trying to pick my fantasy league team – no value in the market.

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